In his book “Fixing the Moral Deficit”, Christian writer Ron Sider says of government spending that “a crucial moral measure of every budget is how it treats the most poor and vulnerable”.
Today in Australia we are facing our own moral deficit. In this year's budget, announced in early May, the Federal Government reduced Australia’s overseas aid contribution to its least generous in history. It revealed that aid levels will be frozen until 2022, meaning they will hit their lowest levels ever (19c for every $100). This will translate into a further scaling back of life-giving aid projects. In the midst of this, it is necessary to question the moral fibre of our national priorities - and to ask - where is the vision for a just, compassionate and generous aid budget that reflects the values of Australian people?
Is there an absence of generosity – a deep selfishness that is at the heart of our national identity?
For several years I have been having several personal conversations with our elected leaders to raise concerns about the moral deficit in our budget. In these meetings I have been very disappointed to hear our leaders say that they feel a strong mandate from their constituents to implement these budget cuts (alongside several other troubling policies impacting asylum seekers, Aboriginal communities, the domestic poor and many other justice related issues). Even more troubling was one specific discussion with an MP from New South Wales who told me that she regularly meets with the church leaders in her electorate and none of them has ever raised concerns about the cuts to aid.
Why does it seem that so much of the church remains silent? Are we as followers of Jesus any different from the rest of the community? Does our understanding of God’s concern for the most marginalised mean anything or is that irrelevant to modern day Australia? Is there an absence of generosity – a deep selfishness that is at the heart of our national identity? Certainly, if we just look at the National Budget and lack of noticeably moral outrage from our churches, we might make this conclusion.
However, I don’t think it is that simple. As the National Director for TEAR Australia, I regularly get the chance to meet with Australian Christians who are living incredibly generous and sacrificial lives. People who give their time, talent, voice, and resources as they put their faith into tangible action. But are they the exceptions to the norm?
For me, the question of Christ-centred generosity revolves around the reality that fullness of life is not defined simply by material possessions. In a very individualistic, consumeristic and materialistic culture there is a constant pressure for us to be conformed and shaped by these values. In fact, a theme echoed throughout Scripture is that money can have a very real hold on us. Jesus tells us that we cannot love God and also love money. Does that mean that money is evil per se? No, but as it says in 1 Timothy “the love of money is the root of evil” and I think it is countercultural, and in fact not easy, to resist this “love”.
There is much we can – and should – do to be generous locally. But I don’t believe that God’s call for me to love my neighbour stops at Australia’s borders. So what does generosity mean for us in a global context?
Here are a few ideas for “global generosity”: